Would you ride on a driverless bus? The tiny CityMobil2 driverless bus takes its route in front of Osman Sah Mosque, in Trikala town, Greece. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)
Would you ride on a driverless bus?
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There'll be no arguing with the driver on this bus. After all, the rides are free and there's no driver, anyway.
 
Trikala is a rural town in northern Greece. It has been chosen to test a driverless bus in real traffic conditions for the first time. The test is part of a European project. Its goal is to revolutionize mass transport and wean its cities off oil dependency over the next 30 years.
 
Trials of the French-built CityMobil2 buses will last through late February.
 
Over the past year, CityMobil2 has been tried out near its base in La Rochelle in western France, on a campus in Lausanne, Switzerland and near Helsinki, Finland. Each site provides controlled conditions. So there were no accidents.
 
But Greece is a country of narrow, winding, hilly streets. It has stray dogs, bicycle riders and impatient drivers. The buses are up against real traffic. The Greek government had to amend its laws to allow the testing. And the city had to build a dedicated bus lane. It deprived residents of downtown parking spaces.
 
The robot buses don't look like science fiction vehicles. They are more like golf cart meets ice cream truck. Still, heads turn as the skinny, battery-powered buses hum through the streets. They seat only 10 people. Each is guided by GPS and additional sensors. The sensors include lasers and cameras. They send live data to a control center.
 
The buses go no faster than 12 1/2 miles per hour. But the trials in Trikala (pronounced TREE-kah-lah) potentially represent a major advance for automated transport.
 
"There were cities bidding for this project all over Europe. They offered relatively restricted urban areas. But we said we could make it happen in a downtown environment and we won," said Odisseas Raptis, who heads the city's digital project department. It is called e-Trikala. "We have a 2.4-kilometer (1.5-mile) route, the bus route. It's mixed with traffic, with pedestrians, with bicycles, with cars. That hasn't been done before."
 
Vasilis Karavidas is the chief technician for the project in Greece. He trained with Robosoft. They are the company that developed the bus, in the southwest French town of Bidart.
 
Although the driverless buses are fully automated with onboard navigation and obstacle detection systems, each vehicle will be monitored by a driver in the control center. That individual can override the system, Karavidas said.
 
"It's as if they are in here and they can stop the bus if they want to, if something goes wrong," he said.
 
The buses are currently running without passengers. Full testing will start later in October. That's when a fiber-optic network allowing faster data transmission will be completed. Six battery-powered vehicles will eventually be used in this farming town of 80,000. The town has become hooked on high-tech.
 
Trikala already has already tested EU-funded pilot medical programs. They include schemes to relay heart test data from home to the doctor's office and use tracker devices for Alzheimer patients. In the center of the city, a "digital tree" with solar panels allows benches to carry phone-charging outlets.
 
The 28-nation European Union is targeting gasoline use for city transport as one area where it wants to reduce carbon emissions. With oil prices and city populations expected to rise in the coming decades, a major shift to battery power and more shared transport could blur the line between private and public vehicles.
 
Senior transport analyst Philippe Crist works at the International Transport Forum. It is a think-tank based in Paris. He says transport trends are hard to predict as the world moves more toward automation.
 
"We too often look at technological changes in isolation," Crist said. "There is a good chance that these technologies will create entirely new uses that we can only poorly grasp today. The reality is that everything is changing around these technologies. And it is plausible that society may lose interest in owning cars or using fixed-service public transport. Especially if these technologies allow better alternatives to emerge."
 
Models run by the think tank suggest that city transport could be made massively more efficient.
 
Crist said researchers looked at "shared and route-optimized on-call taxi-like services replacing all car and bus trips in a mid-sized European city. We found that these systems could deliver almost the same mobility as today but with 95 percent fewer vehicles."
 
Driverless cars and buses offer an easier way to optimize traffic flow while aiming to eliminate human error. That has transport developers working at both ends. They are adding automatic features to conventional vehicles while raising the bar for those that will have no driver at all.
 
So far, the CityMobile2 has had mixed reviews on the streets of Trikala. Not everyone is happy to lose parking spots or replace human jobs with machines. Still, retiree Michalis Pantelis said he was proud that his city was selected for the testing.
 
"I think it's wonderful. Think how many people will come to Trikala to see this. It's new and innovative," he said, moments after a driverless bus passed by. "It reminds me of the toy cars my grandchildren play with."

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
What advantages does a driverless bus offer?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (198)
  • hunterf-1-sch
    10/19/2015 - 02:08 p.m.

    It does sound cool to not have a driver but an auto-bus, er whatever, but I still wouldn't wanna ride in a driverless bus, because what if the controls or something broke, then it could crash or blow up.

  • josephc1-day
    10/19/2015 - 07:14 p.m.

    Yes I would ride on one of these buses. I love the idea! The only bad part is that some people will become unemployed. This is just amazing and shows how far technology has gone.

  • judea-buh
    10/19/2015 - 08:04 p.m.

    Wow, it's so cool that they now have buses that have systems that can detect the obstacles ahead without having a driver driving the bus. The article states that a European group that decided to make buses that could have no driver and that could be able to have very little accidents.My question is, what made them come up with this idea, is it because people want to minimize accidents?

    But then if you have an obstacle-detecting bus, the system might crash and create a whole new problem.My point is there could be accidents both ways with or without a driver.

    I think the solution is that if u have a combination of the bus driver and the obstacle-detecting bus so if the bus' system crashes, the driver might have a way to fix it.

  • ryan0420-yyca
    10/19/2015 - 08:25 p.m.

    It is cool that there are buses now that people don't need to drive. Also it is less likely for the driver to get into a car accident because it is a machine that is driving the mini bus. Also it is less likely for a machine to get into a car accident because human make more mistakes. But the only way probably the machine will get into a car accident is because other people crash into the mini bus.

  • ryan0420-yyca
    10/19/2015 - 08:32 p.m.

    That is cool that there is a bus now that doesn't take a driver to drive because people are more likely to get into a car accident because humans make mistakes. But a machine is a machine and machines don't make mistakes.Also machines will probably only get into a car accident because of another person. Maybe another person might crash into it. I like the new machine because it doesn't cost money and you don't need to fight with the bus driver

  • annabel1226-yyca
    10/19/2015 - 10:05 p.m.

    If it is safe I would ride it. But, won't it be dangerous. Is it controlled by the computer system? If it is, it might be dangerous because sometimes the computer kind of gets crazy, so while it was driving it won't stop. Then what will they do? Will the company pay their family for dying. It is nice to have a free ride with no driver. The bus driver or any taxi will be sad. They won't get to eat because the customers won't like to pay, so they won't ride the bus or the taxi.

  • karliw-1-bar
    10/19/2015 - 10:47 p.m.

    A driverless bus has the benefits of free rides, "offers an easier way to optimize traffic flow" and erases the possibility of human error on the streets and for these specific CityMobil2 buses, reduce gas usage because of their battery powered models. Also, CityMobil2 buses could possibly also deliver almost the same mobility as today but with 95 percent fewer vehicles.

  • william1108-yyca
    10/19/2015 - 10:55 p.m.

    WOW! A driver less bus must be sort of nice. I wish I can ride in one of those. Maybe next time I could ride one next time. If I find one maybe I will ride it.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    10/20/2015 - 12:15 a.m.

    I think that it is cool because there are going to be driverless bus in Europe because I think that the European Union wanted to reduce the amount of carbon emission that is contributing global warming. The CityMobile2 bus might have been the bus that the European Union had made with a six-power battery which is powered by electricity which there is a downfall because the bus can only go up to 12 1/2 miles per hour.

  • brookem-1-bar
    10/20/2015 - 01:05 a.m.

    Some advantages having a driverless bus is that there is no one to pay making the city richer by not having to pay bus drivers.

    I thought it was interesting that there's no driver and I was curious about how the city would deal with accidents when there's no one to blame.

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